Over the years I’ve had a lot of experiences with machines of all kinds. Some have been pleasant and some have been decidedly not. The mimeograph machine that I had to use in high school comes to mind as a good example of the latter. It seems that my most frustrating experiences with machines have been with automobiles. But if I thought about it long enough, I might come up with a few other good candidates for Most Frustrating. Ultimately, it’s been my experience that as “Murphy” said, “If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.” This applies to machines, processes, events and you name it.
To get myself started I asked a couple of questions: Did the machine outsmart you; did it function incorrectly; did it kick your butt? Yes, all of the above. Well, maybe not so much the last one. I chose to go with”frustrating” rather than “funny” as a parameter because, well, I don’t think I’ve ever had a “funny” experience with a machine. The lot of them are pretty humorless as far as I’m concerned. Though, the way things are going, my washing machine might one day tell me jokes to relieve the tedium of doing the laundry. You never know.
The particular case that I settled on for this little exercise was my husband’s car at the time; a 1995 Dodge Intrepid. We bought the thing from his dad for a small enough price when his dad was moving back to Germany with no intent of ever returning to America. It was a good car for a number of years until a defect (for which there was a recall that his dad had simply ignored because it seemed like a lot of trouble and of which we were totally unaware until the engine seized up and wouldn’t do a darn thing anymore) caused us to have to buy an entire new engine for it. Well, it was a rebuilt engine, but we were assured it did not have the same defect. Suddenly our small purchase price had more than doubled. But this isn’t what totally frustrated us. That was a finite problem with a finite fix, albeit expensive … but still cheaper than an entirely new car.
As far as I’m concerned “intermittent” is a dirty word and the epitome of Murphy’s Law. Have you ever taken your car to a repair shop with an intermittent problem and tried to get it fixed? Ain’t gonna’ happen. Don’t even try.
Every now and then (and becoming more and more often as time went by), when Bernd (my husband) would turn the key in the ignition, the engine would not start. There was no signal going to the starter. Sometimes, it would only take one more turn to get it to run, but more often it would be seven or eight tries. Once, when I was with him, we thought it would never start. It must have taken 20 tries before it worked. It’s not too bad if this happens while you are still parked in your garage. But we were many miles from home.
When, after multiple trips to the repair shop and they could not help us, we decided to have a look for ourselves. We took the steering column apart and inspected everything to the best of our ability … which isn’t always saying much. But Bernd had his multi-meter and we knew enough to check for electrical continuity; which we had in spades. So?
We both spent time online researching the problem. It was basically time wasted and Bernd took to driving around with the steering column exposed because he discovered if he pressed on a certain part a certain way, he could get the engine to start (yes, that was a good clue, or so you would think, turned out not so much). Because he felt that he was going to solve the problem sooner rather than later, I could never convince him to store all the screws and nuts and covers and tools in the trunk instead of in the foot well on the front passenger side. Whenever I rode with him, I had to struggle to find space for my feet. And they are not big feet.
It was not sooner rather than later. It was more like a year and a half, and I became accustomed to an exposed steering column and wires dangling and the anxiety that accompanied going anywhere in his car and wondering if we would be walking home. So, you are asking, why not take my car. Bernd didn’t find the car I was driving at that time to be all that comfortable. It fit little me just fine, but not big tall him. A 1992 Jeep Cherokee Laredo is not as large as one might think it is. Bernd’s Intrepid was quite a bit longer and wider with more head and leg room. I have a Jeep Commander now. It fits both of us just fine.
Within that year and a half or so, we did take it back to the repair shop a couple of times to no avail. Eventually, after spending more spare moments than he really had on it, we actually figured it out, bought the darn part, struggled to install it (required both of us and demonstrated my law: everything is at least twice as hard as you think it will be and takes at minimum three times as long to accomplish as you hope it might), and fixed the problem. You have no idea how nice it is when your engine starts with just one turn of the key.
Someday, I might have to write in detail about the very first computer that we bought back in the dark ages of 2000. Man! Was that really only twenty years ago? Seems like ages from a technological standpoint. And yet at 67 years old, twenty years doesn’t seem like all that long.
Because it was our first, we thought we were just really, really, REALLY stupid (that might still be the case in general but in this specific instance it was not). As it turned out, it was defective and would never have worked properly. Go figure. We did, however, learn a lot about computers in the process. And actually, that seems to happen a lot. Recently, we had to buy a new computer because the hard drive in our old one just up and died. So guess what? The hard drive in the new computer died the second day we had it. Talk about frustrating. And we’d spent the entire previous day getting all the software back into it that we had in the old computer. Then we had to do it all over again. Sometimes I wish I’d never heard of Murphy. I wonder now and then if people who are unaware of Murphy’s Law have less trouble with it. Think about it for a moment.
So let’s see. There was also a VCR and a camera that got the better of me. And don’t even show me a universal remote control. There’s a digital voice recorder that still has me flummoxed. Down loading songs to an iPod (got one free and would have been better off without it) proved to be almost impossible. Then there was the free (ditto) pedometer that I never did make work. It went in the trash. And there is still the magical, self-collapsing camera tripod (although it isn’t really technically a machine). I’m just thankful my electric water kettle never gives me any trouble. Come to think of it, I could use a hot drink right about now. Maybe some nice soothing chamomile tea.